US scientists plan ‘unhackable internet’ using quantum technology

Electronics for use in a quantum computer in the quantum computing lab at the IBM laboratory in New York
Electronics for use in a quantum computer in the quantum computing lab at the IBM laboratory in New York

The US has outlined a plan to build a parallel quantum internet that could be used by sensitive government departments and banks to send information without intrusion.

The network will rely on the laws of quantum mechanics to send information more securely.  It could be functional in a decade, according to the Department of Energy, which revealed the blueprint of the network in Chicago on Thursday.  

Unlike the internet we currently use, which transmits information by sending tiny particles down cables or  fibre, quantum networks use the strange behaviour of quantum bits, or “qubits”, to transmit information at great speed.

Interception would be impossible because if someone tried to look at a transmission, it would be disturbed, scrambling the message and alerting the recipients. 

Scientists have been working for years to recreate quantum entanglement, which is when the behaviour of a pair of  photons become linked and take on an identical state, and stretch them across a distance so they work like an unbreakable chain.  

About | What is quantum computing?
About | What is quantum computing?

In February, scientists within the Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago tested out one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the US, a 52 mile “quantum loop” of entangled photons. 

The Department of Energy plans to connect this to another computer in Illinois, creating an 80 mile loop that could form the new quantum network. 

While quantum networks are not expected to replace the internet we use now, they could be useful for securing banking and health services, national security and aircraft communications. 

Quantum Computing | What are the applications?
Quantum Computing | What are the applications?

Engineers in the UK and Singapore have been working on a $10m satellite-based quantum communication network since 2018. The satellite, which is expected to launch in 2022, will beam qubits back to Earth. 

In 2017, Chinese scientist Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China, used a nanosatellite named Micius to stream the first quantum-encrypted virtual teleconference between Beijing and Vienna. The stream was not unhackable, however, Pan published a journal in Nature outlining Micius’ improved secure messaging system last month.

The US government was responsible for creating the backbone of the internet which we use now in the 1960s, although Britain’s Sir Tim Berners-Lee popularised it when he created the world wide web.